This is, of course, one-third of the triumvirate that makes up the much-anointed Serenity Prayer. I’ll leave the other two components – accepting what cannot be changed, and recognizing the difference – for another time or frame of mind. For now, I’m all about figuring what I can change.
In concrete terms, this recently meant paying $60 plus tax for a hotel room.
The kids and I had long planned a trip to Washington, D.C. to visit my sister and her family over the Presidents’ Day weekend. We were all greatly looking forward to it. And yet the closer our departure drew, the more anxious I felt.
“Yes, it will be wonderful to visit them, but….” I thought to myself time and again.
But I never took time to finish the sentence.
But what? I didn’t know. There was just something about the idea of the trip that was inspiring an increasing sense of unrest as the day drew near.
“Yes, driving from Massachusetts to D.C. in one day will be challenging, especially since we can’t leave until after the kids finish school at 2:30,” I told myself. It is against my parental code of honor to take the kids out of school early for travel purposes. “But if we wait to leave until Saturday, we’ll miss out on a whole day there, and our time there is too short as it is.”
Still, I had visions of us stuck in New York City traffic as the night wore on, driving past midnight on Friday, even having car trouble in the wee hours of Saturday morning with no one around to help.
Maybe the solution seems incredibly obvious, but it took me a while to realize that the answer was to drive most of the way after school on Friday, and then get an early start Saturday morning to finish the trip.
“But I’ll never find a hotel room at this late date,” I told myself three days before our departure. “It’s a holiday weekend; everything will be booked. Or if I do find a vacancy, it will be painfully expensive. And what if the drive goes unexpectedly fast and we’re stuck in a hotel room midway when we could have just driven the whole distance on Friday?”
Perhaps this kind of anxious stewing has always counted as unproductive, but in the Internet era it seems particularly unnecessary. A quick visit to hotels.com informed me that there were indeed vacancies along our route, and that plenty of options were very affordable, and that for $60 plus taxes, I could alleviate all my anxieties in one fell swoop. If we were way ahead of schedule and didn’t want to stop? Well then, we’d keep going. It would be $60 whether we did or didn’t use the room, and for that price, it was worth alleviating my anxieties either way.
It all sounds so simplistic and obvious, and yet anyone who has even slight tendencies toward worrying and anxiety will understand how easy it is to get caught in this kind of inside-the-box thinking. Once I faced the cause of my anxieties – the long drive – head-on, the solution – a $60 hotel room – was so straightforward.
So for $60 plus taxes (minimal taxes, since the hotel we chose was in Delaware), I stopped worrying about the trip. We left after school on Friday and stayed nonchalant through heavy traffic outside of Hartford and again near New York City. After all, our destination was merely a cheap hotel room in Delaware; it’s not like there was any great hurry to get there.
Saturday morning I awoke in our hotel room, all anxieties dispelled. I went running, brought the kids to breakfast, and we were on our way. We arrived at my sister’s house at 11 a.m. – only about an hour later than my kids usually arise in the morning these days anyway.
It was a good reminder to think outside the box – and to confront my anxieties. Not all sources of stress can be so easily conquered, but this one could. I’ll remember that next time a plan, concern, or deadline is keeping me awake at night. Some problems are difficult to solve, but some are easy. The trick is recognizing the difference.